Starr sends report to Hill Circus atmosphere prevails at Capitol

delivery is a surprise

Guards watch over report

September 10, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON SUN STAFF WRITER LYLE DENNISTON CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — WASHINGTON -- In the gravest threat yet to President Clinton, independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr sent to Congress yesterday his long-awaited report on the White House sex scandal, outlining evidence of impeachable offenses that could bring down the Clinton presidency.

Thirty-six boxes -- containing a 25-page introduction, 280 pages of narrative, 140 pages of grounds for Starr's charges, 2,000 pages of appendixes and reams of grand jury testimony -- were delivered to the House of Representatives at 4 p.m. amid a carnival atmosphere, as tourists gawked, police officers swarmed and television cameras whirred.

The report is expected to detail charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of presidential power stemming from the president's sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern.

"The office has fulfilled its duty under the law," declared Starr's spokesman, Charles Bakaly. "The responsibilities for further action now lie with the Congress."

In a terse response, the president's personal attorney, David E. Kendall, complained that the president and his lawyers have been denied a chance to review the accusations, and he stressed that they were "only the prosecutors allegations."

"But we do know this," Kendall added. "There is no basis for impeachment."

Rep. Gerald B. H. Solomon of New York, chairman of the committee that sets the rules for House conduct, said the 445 pages that make up the core of Starr's report will be released publicly by early Friday afternoon. The House will decide next week how to proceed with a thorough examination of Starr's report.

Laying out an aggressive timetable, Solomon predicted that the full House will vote before it recesses for the year on whether to proceed with a formal impeachment inquiry. That historic vote could come by October and impeachment proceedings could begin next year.

Bakaly said the report contains "substantial and credible information that may constitute grounds for impeachment of the president of the United States."

The delivery of the report capped an extraordinary and historic day in Washington, when, for the first time in a quarter-century, presidential impeachment became a clear possibility.

The day dawned with an early morning White House meeting at which Clinton poured out his regrets to nine House Democratic leaders and asked them for forgiveness.

"Clearly, the president was profoundly angry at himself and deeply sorry for the hurt he caused, particularly to his wife," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Democrat from Southern Maryland who attended the White House meeting. "You could tell the agony he was in."

That session was followed by a meeting of Republican and Democratic House leaders who began hammering out the rules that would govern any impeachment inquiry. That was followed by a presidential speech in Florida, where Clinton delivered his most emotional public expression of regret.

Its dramatic finale came at 4 p.m., when a black Dodge Ram van and a white minivan drove up to the Capitol steps. A phalanx of uniformed police officers transferred 18 boxes of documents and 18 boxes of duplicates to two hulking blue Chevy Suburbans, which then took Starr's report four blocks to the Gerald R. Ford office building, where they were placed in a locked room with armed guards. The House sergeant-at-arms changed the locks on the room's door to ensure that no one will have unauthorized access.

'Immense consequence'

"With the delivery of the report from the independent counsel, we begin a process of immense consequence, a process which our Constitution thrusts on the House of Representatives," said Rep. Henry J. Hyde, the Illinois Republican who, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, would lead any impeachment inquiry.

Hyde's formal statement followed a more candid assessment: "This is a lousy job, but somebody has to do it. Nobody looks forward to this traumatic journey we're about to embark on."

There appears to be good reason for secrecy. The boxes contain sexually explicit information and grand jury testimony taken in secret from witnesses not represented by attorneys and not cross-examined by the president's attorneys.

In a letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, the House Democratic leader, Starr warned that much of the report's supporting materials "contain information of a personal nature that I respectfully urge the House to treat as confidential."

Some Democrats are still imploring that only the bare minimum of information be released publicly this week.

"People's lives are at stake," said Abbe Lowell, the Judiciary Committee's lead Democratic investigator. "If people could just wait, we're not asking for much."

Surprise timing

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